By Mike LaBella
HAVERHILL — When asked about his life, Rick Barry would often say, "I live in Haverhill but I sleep in Lowell."
He spent most of his waking hours in Haverhill working as a funeral director while giving his time to a wide variety of charitable causes. At the end of the day, he'd make the trek back to his native Lowell, where he lived with his wife, Priscilla.
Making a joke about the two communities, where for more than two decades he spent his life, was the kind of thing you'd expect from Barry.
So it may come as no surprise to those who knew him that he wanted to get in one last joke to remember him by.
"He'd seen some headstones with witty sayings on them and he wanted one himself," said Barry's son, Richard Barry III.
"This is what he wanted and this is what we will have on his headstone: 'I knew this would happen.'"
Richard "Rick" Barry Jr., who turned 61 on Sunday, died Wednesday evening at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston following a lengthy illness.
For the last five years, Barry had battled a rare blood condition called hemochromatosis, his son said.
Barry's family had high hopes that a team of specialists at Beth Israel would find a cure for the disease, which caused him pain that he would often try to ignore.
About a month ago, he began to feel worse and spent a week at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen. He returned home for about a week then was admitted to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston before being transferred to Beth Israel on Saturday.
On Sunday morning, Barry called his wife on the phone. "Shortly after that the doctors put him into a medically induced coma," Rick Barry III said. "We knew the end was imminent."
His family was at his side on Sunday, when he turned 61. There was no celebration, only prayers.
"At that point he was unable to respond," his son said. "They did everything they could to save him. It was a heroic effort. We are going to miss him, but we're glad that he won't have to be sick any more."
During the 1960s, Rick Barry Jr. served with the U.S. Navy before beginning a career in the funeral business.
His first job was in Lowell. In 1989, he got a job with H.L. Farmer & Sons Funeral Home in Haverhill.
Brian Farmer worked with Barry for 22 years and looked up to him as a father.
"He used to say, 'I'd rather be like an older brother,'" Brian Farmer said.
Through the years, Barry comforted and counseled those who were grieving the loss of a loved one.
"All he wanted to do was help people, whether it was here serving our families or out in the community," Brian Farmer said.
Barry was instrumental in developing the Farmer & Sons/Bethany Bereavement and Resource Center in Haverhill.
"He loved life, he loved people, and he loved his family," Brian Farmer said. "He genuinely loved to help people. It was who he was and it was the fabric of his life."
For more than 10 years, Barry hosted a local cable TV program called "What's Happening Haverhill." His guests ranged from lawyers to members of the clergy.
When St. Patrick's Day rolled around, he was master of ceremonies at the Haverhill Exchange Club's annual breakfast fundraiser. Along with his sidekick and close friend Sam Ambra, Barry never failed to put on a show that had the audience members in hysterics while reaching for their wallets as he poked fun at politicians. As emcee of the event, he helped raise more than $100,000 for such worthy causes as the prevention of child abuse.
He was the driving force behind fundraising efforts for some of the Exchange Club's most ambitious projects, including Sing Out Against Child Abuse — which was his brainchild.
His community service brought him a slew of honors, including most recently, the 2011 Distinguished Citizen Award by the Yankee Clipper Council, Boys Scouts of America.
Not only was Barry vocal in his support of charitable causes — he could sing too.
On Valentine's Day, and if you were lucky enough, you might have been paid a visit by Barry and several of his barbershop singing associates. A quick song or two and they'd be out the door. But not before leaving single red roses for the women they had just serenaded.
Barry not only enriched lives. He tried to save them.
In 2007, he was part of a local team that visited area high schools during prom season to talk about the dangers of drinking and driving. During one of Barry's sobering presentations, he explained how he used wax to reconstruct a human body that had been involved in a deadly and disfiguring crash.
"The injured ones are the lucky ones," Barry said. "I deal with people who weren't the lucky ones. As embalmers, we have a saying: 'We can rebuild, but we can't recreate."'
Barry was a member of the Lowell Gentlemen Songsters and the Barbershop Harmony Society. He served as chairman of three barbershop conventions at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium and was the recipient of the Lowell Gentlemen Songsters Barbershopper of the Year award as well as Patriot Division Barbershopper of the Year.
Rick Barry leaves his wife, Priscilla A. Barry of Lowell, a son, Richard and his wife, Danielle, of Pepperell and their three children, Paige, 14, Trevor, 12, and Riley, 6. He also leaves his sister Trudy Miller and her husband, Robert, of Dracut, and a sister Rosemary Carr of Lowell.
Calling hours at Farmer & Sons Funeral Home, 106 Summer St., are Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m. A funeral Mass is Monday at 10:30 a.m. at Sacred Hearts Church in Bradford. Burial will follow in Lowell Cemetery, Lowell.
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.